Parents and carers: What you need to know about the teachers' strikes

As schools across England and Wales shut their doors tonight, it's still not clear exactly how many will re-open tomorrow. Stacey Foster reports

Teachers in England and Wales are striking on Wednesday in the first of seven walkouts in February and March in a row over pay, conditions and funding.

The first national strike by teacher members of the NEU in England is taking on February 1 and will affect 23,400 schools.

Some parents will have to work from home and take leave to look after younger children on Wednesday, as many schools make the decision to close.

Here is what parents and carers need to know ahead as teachers prepare to walk out.

Will my children's school be open?

The decision to open, restrict attendance, or close a maintained school is being left to the headteacher.

The National Education Union (NEU) is required by law to provide schools with the number of members that it is calling on to take strike action in each workplace, but the union does not have to provide the names of members.

Teachers are under no obligation to tell their headteacher that they intend to strike, which means headteachers and academy trust bosses are unlikely to know how many of their staff will be taking strike action until the last minute.

"Headteachers don't know necessarily which staff they will have" - a look ahead to Wednesday's strike from ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen

The idea behind it is to avoid school bosses arranging cover for the striking staff, and therefore negating the impact of the walkout.

As a result, some schools are pre-empting the decision and closing the school to avoid parents and carers turning up at the school gates only to find them shut.

Schools that have decided to close on Wednesday will have notified parents and carers.

Schools have been asked to stay partially open for certain groups, such as the children of key workers, among others. What about free school meals?

It is an individual school's responsibility to decide whether they can provide free school meals, the Local Government Association said.

Some schools are opening for for children who receive benefits-related free school meals. Others are providing a packed lunch kids can pick up the day before a strike.

The DfE said children entitled to free school meals who are being educated remotely in such instances should be provided with a “good quality lunch parcel”.

If you've been impacted by the recent strike action and would like to share your story, email yourstory@itv.com

Will out-of-hours care, such as breakfast or after-school clubs, remain open?

Even if schools decide to stay open, they are likely to be stretched and out-of-hours clubs provided by a school affected by strikes will be closed if they can not open safely.

DfE guidance says: "The staffing ratio, if no teacher is present, may be 1:8 if atleast one member of staff holds a full and relevant level 3 qualification and at least half ofall other staff hold a full and relevant level 2 qualification.

"For children who normally attend reception class or older, there must be sufficient staff as for a class of 30 children."

Children who usually receive a free school meal may miss out on strike days. Credit: PA

Will there be remote learning?

The Department of Education's strike guidance states that "where schools must restrict attendance, they should consider," where possible, providing remote education in line with the providing remote education: guidance for schools.

But online teaching still requires qualified staff, and a school might not know if they have the teacher numbers to support online learning in time to set this up.

Seamus Murphy, the CEO of Turner Schools, which runs five schools in Folkestone, Kent, said three of the schools will not have all year groups in on Wednesday due to the strike action.

Pupils in years 3, 4 and 5 at one of the primary schools will be at home unless they are children of key workers or vulnerable, and in the two secondary schools years 8, 9 and 10 will have online learning.

Google Classroom may also be used for pupils who will not be in school.

If your child is off school due to the teachers' strike, can you get paid time off work?

You are entitled to take reasonable time off work to deal with an unexpected problem or emergency. This is called "dependant leave", says Citizens Advice.

Your employer cannot refuse dependant leave if you have no other option - such as childcare arrangements failing.

In both dependant and parental leave cases you won't be paid for your time off, unless your contract of employment says so.

You might be able to negotiate a holiday if you still want to be paid, but that is down to employee discretion.

Read more>>> If your child is off school amid teachers' strike can you get paid time off work?What if my child is in an exam year?

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said heads “are prioritising in their planning students who are taking vocational exams scheduled that day and mock exams in preparation for GCSEs and A-levels".

The DfE guidance states: "It is recommended that centres should remain open for examinations and examination candidates where possible, even if the school is closed or restricting attendanceWhat if my child does not want to cross a picket line?

If your children is of examinations age and they have been called into the classroom, but they wish to support their striking teachers - can they refuse to cross the picket line?

The DfE say: “Pupils who are required to attend should be marked in the normal way. If a pupil is required to attend school on a strike day but does not, then they must be recorded as absent.” 

These strikes come amid a wave of industrial action from other public sector workers, including nurses and ambulance staff. Credit: PA Images

Will childcare be impacted?

The potential knock-on effect of striking teachers on nurseries could have “quite a serious knock-on effect,” as workers may struggle to find childcare at the last minute.

Director of policy at the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) Jonathan Broadbery told the PA news agency early years settings “might not be able to take all the children that they planned to” when teachers strike.

Mr Broadbery said he was concerned about the potential long-term impact on nurseries should the dispute not be resolved.

Speaking about the potential impact, Mr Broadbery said: “We know that the vast majority of the workforce in nurseries and early years is female – and if there are problems with children not being able to go to school, research over Covid shows it maybe falls to the working mums rather than working dads to look after the children who can’t go to school."

Are there more strikes planned?

The NEU declared a pattern of seven days of strike action over the next two months, although individual schools will only be affected by four of them as it will be regionally split.

But the dispute over pay and funding is unlikely to go away.

Standing on a picket line outside a school in Warwick, said: “I think Gillian Keegan (Education Secretary) is hoping our strike is ineffective and people won’t do it again.

“I think she’s wrong about that.

“There could be further action.

“She needs to do a deal so that that doesn’t happen.”

Meanwhile, the NAHT school leaders’ union and the NASUWT teachers’ union, which failed to achieve the 50% ballot turnout required by law for its members to go out on strike over pay in England, are considering balloting members again over pay.

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